The teratoid of US foreign policy

November 3, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts


Since the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, the US has struggled with its foreign policy and its perceived role within global politics. From its origins in Isolationism and Non-Interventionism policies, to its current overt and arguably aggressive stance of Unilateralism, the US foreign policy has shape shifted through a vast spectrum of political ideologies. So where is US foreign policy headed? With the upcoming US general presidential elections looming, will the liberal policies of the Democrats overcome the sweeping change the conservative Republicans represent?

The eternal metamorphosis of the US Foreign Policy is a topic of great debate. In the third and final presidential debate, candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated on issues of foreign policy. With a calibre of possibilities, solutions and ideals covered, the candidates revealed their fundamental differences in party policy. Whilst Obama supports the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 2014 (CNN World 2012) , Romney committed to the hard-line Republican neo-conservative foreign policy, however acknowledging “But we can’t kill our way out of this. We must have a comprehensive strategy.” (Manduca 2012)


Despite political alliances, US foreign policy represents the current gatekeeper to a world of greater peace. Where multilaterals such as the UN and the EU promote political solutions and treaties in place of erratic warmongering, US foreign policy has harboured Unilateralism and Imperialism for the best part of the 20thand 21st centuries. These ideals can be seen through US conquests during this time.

At the onset of World War One, the US adhered to a strict non-interventionist policy.

Implemented by then Democrat President Wilson, his actions had national concurrence and the strong agreement of public opinion (Oxford 2000). However this policy of peace and neutrality “in thought and deed” (The Independent 1914; Lawrence Daily Journal-World 1924) was short lived. Acts of aggression by perpetrating Triple Alliance forces such as the atrocities in Belgium in 1914, and the sinking of RMS Lusitania in 1915 only added to anti-German sentiment amongst US citizenry. On the 6th of April 1917, the US Congress voted to declare war (Link 1972, pp.252-282) . Whilst maintaining the sovereignty of its deployed troops, the American Expeditionary Forces fought in various locations and battles for the remainder of the war. At the conclusion of the war, Wilson travelled to Paris on diplomatic duties for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. With him, he brought 14 Points of Recommendation.

The fourteenth and final point stated “A “general association of nations” should be formed to guarantee political independence and territorial integrity to “great and small states alike.” (Jones 2012) This final point assisted in the establishment of the League of Nations – the predecessor to the United Nations of today. This final point Wilson believed was fundamental to creating a peaceful world. It represents the multilateral approach and should have been incorporated as part of a greater implemented strategy in US Foreign Policy. Whilst the US’s initial approach of non-interventionism was a peaceful, neutral strategy, it ultimately failed to defend US assets and ensure the safety of its citizens. As Ronald Reagan said seven decades later, ” Isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments.” (Williams 2009) The non-interventionist method failed.

The Vietnam War was a fierce depiction of US Imperialism and a new era of US foreign policy. Spanning across two decades, the engrained anti-Communist sentiment within US foreign policy (existing since pre-WW2) only increased the ferocity of the conflict (Johns 1987, pp.69-71).

However the persistence of Viet Cong guerrilla tactics took too high a toll on invading forces, resulting in the ever increasing death toll (National Archives 2008). In light of the US’s strained international and diplomatic relations during the Cold War period, the election of Republican President Nixon, saw a shift in US Foreign Policy. With no sign of victory over North Vietnam’s Communist regime, public opinion was quickly changing and decisive opposition against US troops in Vietnam was soon widespread (Burris 2008, pp.443-479). President Nixon’s ‘Vietnamization’ initiative, made way for real frameworks to be established in the workup to withdrawing troops completely. Vietnamization was part of a broader Détente Policy initiated by the Nixon Administration. This policy saw adaptations to the greater US Foreign Policy. The Détente Policy shifted its efforts from the containment of Communism rapidly spreading through Asia in accordance with the Domino Theory, to the establishment of a bilateral world order, where the US and the Soviet Union were at the forefront of policymaking (Goldmann 1982, pp.230-266) .

This cooperative order regarded the US as “realists” in world affairs and pursued the attainment of a broader constellation of forces and powers (Burr 2007).

This saw communications and high-level contact established between Soviet Russia and China, which were regarded as more important than the immediate fate of South Vietnam. In acknowledging the Soviet Union’s power and dominance in Eastern theatres, the Détente Policy sought for a bilateral agreement in place of the more diplomatic multilateral agreement. Ultimately this understanding collapsed once again due to strained political ties. The bilateral method failed.

The US’s current War on Terror has been likened many times to the Vietnam conflict (Record & Terrill 2004). Since the turn of the millennium, US foreign policy has reverted to a post-WW2 mindset, Obama stating ” the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s” (CNN Political Unit 2012). The current US foreign policy under the Obama Administration has seen the removal of coalition military forces from Iraq eight years after George W. Bush invaded. As part of ongoing negotiations and military intervention, Obama also plans on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan – much the same as from Vietnam – by the end of 2014 (CNN World 2012). As Obama heads towards a second term in office, issues of global demilitarisation (which in itself is reminiscent of Wilson’s ideals) and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons remain high on his agenda (US National Security Strategy, pp.23-24). However the election of Republican Mitt Romney may see yet another change in US Foreign Policy. At a recent delivery of his foreign policy speech at a military base in Virginia, Romney outlined plans rhetoric of US exceptionalism and martial nationalism (Sydney Morning Herald 2012). Outlining a more aggressive stance to the Middle East, and attempting to make stark contrast to Obama’s ‘passive’ solutions, Romney defines a proactive strategy stating “hope is not a strategy.” He further continues, “‘I’ll work with our partners to identify and organise those members of the opposition who share our values; and then ensure that they obtain the arms they need,” Whilst Romney’s fiery words found acceptance amongst young service-men and -women, the Republican party “still don’t know what their foreign policy looks like, since the Bush Administration,” said CSIS Director of the Middle East Programme, Jon Alterman (REUTERS 2012). The third and final presidential debate further revealed possible changes to the current US Foreign Policy as candidates outlined their proposals. Both candidates agreed that military intervention in the Middle East is a no-no (CNN Political Unit 2012) . In concurrence with his earlier speech in Virginia, Romney suggested arming rebel forces, saying “‘ Making sure that the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed, are people who will be the responsible parties. ” (ibid. 2012) However Obama’s approach to the Middle East, especially with regards to the current Syrian Crisis, had different priorities “‘ Protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population, not just half of it, is developing.” ( ibid. 2012)

Could Obama’s second term see a less ‘gung-ho’ approach to a complex and diverse global community? Would Romney’s election see the US’s return to the global stage as warmonger and terrorist funder? In either case, only progression towards a multilateral global community would see the decrease in wars and an increase in universal peace and human rights; the basis upon which Obama’s approach is theoretically constructed.

Will we see the progression to multilateralism or the regression to unilateralism?


With the future of the US’s foreign policy swinging loosely in the balance, what areas of concern will the future US President need to focus on in order to make for a less hostile planet? Since the commencement of Obama’s first term, the EU Institute for Security Studies have raised several areas of concern for themselves and their trans-Atlantic cousins. Such issues revolve closely around seven key security and political issues: EU-US relations; nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament; climate change; EU-US-Russia relations, aptly titled “A Difficult Triangle”; the Arab-Israeli conflict; Iran and Afghanistan. (ISS Report No.4, pp.10-36) These suggestions, partially reminiscent of Wilson’s 14 Recommendations are simply building blocks from which a secure future can be aspired towards. How will the current US foreign policy adapt to meet these challenges?

Romney’s Republican mindset of nationalism preludes to his desire for the US to be a sort of divine council to the rest of the world; ‘depose him, resist them, believe this, destroy that’. But where do the real differences lie in the current political climate of today? Romney’s overtly aggressive stance towards Russia, Iran and China make for interesting small talk. Identifying Russia as the US’s greatest geopolitical threat, Romney was keen to make known his annoyance of Russia’s continual blockading of its proposals to the UN Council. (CNN Political Unit 2012) Furthermore, the Republican candidate targeted Iran as the greatest national security threat, stating Iran is now ” four years closer to a nuclear weapon.” In Romney’s view, Iran requires “‘The tightest sanctions possible. They need to be tightened. Our diplomatic isolation needs to be tougher.” With regards to China, Romney put the onus on China, saying “We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them; we can collaborate with them, if they’re willing to be responsible,” labelling them a “currency manipulator” ( ibid. 2012). The growing loss of US jobs to China saw a rise in protectionist policies under the Obama administration, though instead of finding differences, the current US Foreign Policy acknowledges China’s desire for a free and open world, and the possibility of partnerships provided they play by the rules. With both parties agreeing on more aggressive trade conditions with China, it appears future foreign policy will be based around “FREE TRADE“, “OPEN MARKETS” and: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY SMALL PRINT:


By balancing out the trade-deficit with China, greater exports from the US would be made possible; strengthening the US economy, creating jobs, and placing the US in a better position to provide more funding for education, health care and scientific exploration of renewable energies. Amongst the final presidential debate, perhaps there is still hope of a unified, multilateral direction within the US foreign policy of the near future. An ease in trading restrictions coupled with the increase of trading strategy. Though still the President’s focus was the state of the current US economy. Perhaps in the greatest stand for middle class justice of his campaign, Obama reached out to the citizens of the United States during the final debate, took their hand and acknowledged his empathy and understanding for their increasing domestic economic pains:

“But what I think the American people recognize is after a decade of war it’s time to do some nation building here at home. And what we can now do is free up some resources, to for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, making sure that, you know, our veterans are getting the care that they need when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, making sure that the certifications that they need for good jobs of the future are in place.” ( ibid. 2012)


Which direction must US foreign policy now take? The policy has seen countries wage wars; young men charge valiantly with a politician’s nod; countries crippled; alliances forged; cultural divides smashed’this doctrine is at the heart of the United States of America’s inner sanctum. As Sun Tzu states in The Art of War, “The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.” The key to the future sustainability of the US economy, whilst not relinquishing the sovereignty its foreign policy vows to protect, is stability.

The greater global investment in multilateralism provides the only real hope for a peaceful, stable future. Many such organisations currently exist in an attempt to broaden multilateral engagement, such as the EU, the UN, WHO, the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, the list goes on. Whilst these NGO’s and international unions are fundamental to the progression of peace, more nations must abide by the same rules if peace is to increase. The arrogant meddling conducted by the US throughout the world, in particular in the Middle East, is not a sensible foreign policy and certainly not a stable platform from which to launch world change. All it takes is to look back into history. The Jeffersonians emphasised how crucial it is to avoid foreign conflict, alliances or political intervention. Their goal was to see the US lead by example, rather than inflicting military regimes upon other nations or using military might to intervene. It is due to the US’s failure to comply with such doctrines, that it finds itself embroiled in corrupting international power politics, warfare, increased debt and taxes, large idle military forces and erosions of civil liberties (Dueck 2010).

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